Last Thursday in the House of Commons there was this debate that took place in Westminster Hall on the theme of Planning that was set out by Bob Seely and after he had made his opening comment the next person to speak was Rachael Maskell who is the Labour DCMS shadow minister. Her first few words were very significant and if only we could persuade the Government and indeed Parliament to accept this as the basis for the planning Bill our nation would be in a very good state. Her four key elements are a great deal better than the five aspects that were raised by Andrew Griffith from a Sussex constituency.
I wanted to speak in this debate because I want the Minister to succeed and I want my community to succeed. I am here to offer support and help where we can get the solutions right. There are four key elements that I want to address: how we maximise economic opportunity, how we meet housing need, how we have transport integration and sustainability, and how we engage the community. Those are all equal partners and are all needed in how we take developments forward.
She then followed these few words with her next few sentences which provide a very good example of what can be done right and what can be done wrong
Looking at this issue, I think about our 45-hectare brownfield site in the middle of York. It is adjacent to the railway station and it is publicly owned land, so we can really do something innovative there for the future of our city, in order to address the huge inequality in our economy and to ensure that we get the investment right. Tragically, whereas 36,000 jobs are being created at Curzon Street and 37,000 jobs at Crewe, York Central will have just 6,500 jobs. That is only two and half times the number of houses being built; in Birmingham, nine times as many jobs are being created than there are houses being built. That says to me that we need to understand how we can use such sites for economic growth, and that we need consistency.
All of that is very helpful, sadly the reason I saw this debate on my list from “They Work for You” was a comment being made by Andrew Griffith whose were a great deal less positive.
The Minister is well aware of my opposition to the large-scale and inappropriate development proposals on greenfield land across my constituency, in Adversane, Ashington, Buck Barn, Barnham, Eastergate, Mayfield, Kirdford, Rustington, Westergate and Wisborough Green.
The reality is all communities need to be protected from disproportionate developments but sadly it has been far to often that people like Andrew have wanted to call for responses that are not very helpful for the many people who are looking for homes and are denied access to them.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the 556 local residents who, over just the last few weeks, have signed a petition against a development on Rock Road in Storrington. The development is opposed by the parish, the district council and, of course, by me, the Member of Parliament. As a site, it is a spectacular example of the wrong homes in the wrong places. It would put unsustainable strain on infrastructure, such as medical services, GPs, schools and transport. None of that is a surprise, given the very rural setting of Heath Common. The developer Clarion Homes masquerades as a provider of social housing, but so far it appears to be anything but.
Today is about how we move forward. I offer the Minister a five-point plan out of this crisis—one that will give the nation the homes it needs, while protecting the environment we love.
First, we need to level up. The economic activity of development has to be spread more evenly across the whole United Kingdom. I know algorithms are not his Department’s strong point, so let me use some basic percentages. Before the second world war, only a fifth of the population lived in the south of England outside of London, while twice as many lived in the north and Scotland. Now, equal numbers live in both. By piling on even more growth in the south-east, the algorithm is locking the north and midlands into permanent economic disadvantage.
Secondly, we need to turn consents into homes. We need a time-based levy between consent and completion with real bite to deliver those 1 million new homes before we have to give planning permission on a single extra green field.
Third, we need a truly muscular approach to brownfield first—actions, not words, and a real distinction in the planning system to tilt the playing field brownfield.
Fourth, we need to go up, not out. As the Minister knows, we have some of the lowest density urban areas in Europe, yet the London Mayor clearly suffers from acrophobia. The construction rates of tall buildings under his tenure have more than halved. He is a mouse, not an eagle. The failure of leadership is so significant that I am afraid the moment is coming when the London Mayor will need to be stripped of any say on planning.
Fifth, we need a tax system that helps, not hinders, the problem—a stamp duty break for downsizers, which will help free up the market. There is much to commend in the planning White Paper, but there is very much more to fix in today’s planning system. On behalf of all my concerned constituents in Arundel and South Downs, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply—not just today, but as he thinks about bringing forward a planning Bill in the autumn.
I find many of these comments very disturbing, the reality is that many of the communities in Andrew Griffith constituencies need to be protected from dispraportionate growth but equally we all need to recognise that there are many thousands of people in his constituency and elsewhere in Sussex who need somewhere to live that is appropriate. One of the reasons is that many wealthy people purchase properties that they want to own, but that is something that never gets raised by people like Andrew. We need to go back to the comment from Racheal and begin to set out a meaningful development plan.